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Getting paid as a Professor

  1. Jul 6, 2013 #1
    I'm just wondering if, as a Professor, you get paid only by the school you teach at, or if you receive additional income for your research that you do. For instance, let's say you're doing some investigation into accreting binary systems and you get $50k in research grants from NASA; is that money to be used purely for research purposes? (i.e. time on a telescope, travel to and from symposiums to present results, etc)

    Or do research grants ever include ear-marked cash for the researcher's own pay? Just curious... parts of me think that the researcher's time is worth money, but at the same time, he/she is also being paid by the school for the express purpose of doing research and bringing renown to their school.

    How does it all work? Just curious what the future might hold... I'm still on the fence about going into the private sector, or continuing as a grad student, and income is an obvious point of consideration.
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  3. Jul 6, 2013 #2
    Typically you pay part of your salary through your research grants, in a sense, buying your way to a reduced teaching load. HOWEVER, you still only get the salary you get from the university, regardless of how many grants you get. What I mean by that is if you get double the grants than the professor in the next office, you do not get more money they he or she does if you are at the same rank. You're not rewarded directly for pulling in money with more cash, but you are more likely to be promoted and get tenure and all that.

    So, basically, a good bit of the money you get in grants is eaten up by your institution in "overhead" and they use some of that to fun your already agreed to salary. I think if you were able to "eat what you kill" and keep some of your grants for additional salary it would be too tempting to become corrupt.

    What I professor CAN do to get extra money is consult. Typically Universities have a policy about how many hours per week a professor can consult but that varies from institution to institution.
  4. Jul 6, 2013 #3
    Everything you say makes a lot of sense. Thanks for clarifying that! It seems college professors don't get paid quite what I was expecting for Ph.Ds. Why would someone choose that over private sector employment? The schedule? I can't imagine it's the pay...
  5. Jul 6, 2013 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    A professor can request typically 2 months "summer salary" to be working on research. That doesn't mean that he or she will get it. I know of a number of cases where 0 or 1 month was awarded.
  6. Jul 6, 2013 #5
    I work for a National Lab and I can tell you I make about 20% less than what I could make in industry. I also make less than I did 3 years ago because of pay freezes and the like. So it's not the pay. The schedule isn't really much better either, because you have to work super hard just to get your stuff done. I would say you would choose an academic type job so you can have more control over your work. In industry I could make proposals but mostly I worked on what was important for the company.

    Also, in my job now, I'm working on things that could someday have a real, positive impact in the world, where in industry my primary job function was to make money for people who were already rich. To me, having a mission I consider worthwhile makes the long hours a lot easier.
  7. Jul 8, 2013 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    Every institution is different- for example, my previous employer paid me on a 12-month contract, while my current employer pays me a 9-month contract. The 'cultural' differences are much larger than any financial differences.

    Currently, under my 9-month contract, I am free to spend my summers how I choose- I could paint houses or travel, for example. I could get paid for 9 months or 'stretch' the paychecks to be paid out over 12 months. Currently, I get paid during the summer because I am fortunate to be a PI on a research grant that pays my summer salary. During the academic year, my salary is paid by the institution ('hard money') and in return, I agree to teach a certain number of credit hours. I am able to 'buy out' of teaching time by obtaining extramural salary during the academic year, but in general that's discouraged.

    Under my 12-month contract employer, my primary goal was to be 100% salary funded by research grants ('soft money')- like I said, the cultural differences between the two institutions is very different. In that environment, teaching activities are disincentivized, since I received no salary from the institution and needed to spend 100% of my time making sure I would get paid. That institution treated me like an independent small business owner.

    But wait, there's more: in academia, unlike industry (at least in my experience), I am free (as long as I fully disclose) to set up external contracts with anyone I like- I can draw additional salary (in excess of my university contract) that way, but I cannot use institutional resources (lab equipment, etc) to perform those 'consulting' activities. For example, I could contract with a law firm to be an 'expert witness' in a case. I currently do some consulting work for NASA. The financial arrangement to do consulting is very specific and I make sure to fully disclose all activities with my institution (and the IRS!).
  8. Jul 8, 2013 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    I can't answer that for anyone else, but personally I enjoy the intellectual freedom and environment. I do miss some aspects of industry- it moves faster and there is more money to be had- but on balance academia is a better fit for me.
  9. Jul 8, 2013 #8
    There aren't that many jobs in industry that let you use the physics you spent all that time studying, and they can be very competitive as well. For a lot of people, its a choice between pursuing academia or leaving their phd field entirely, which is a bitter pill to swallow.
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